Member of an American Indian people living near the Yaqui River in Sonora, Mexico; many migrated into Arizona from 1887 to escape political persecution. Their language belongs to the Cahitan branch of the Uto-Aztecan family. They were highly productive farmers, and produced cotton goods and basketry. Trade became important after the arrival of the Spanish. Despite contact with white people from the 16th century, and mass deportations to southern Mexico in 1907, they are the only American Indians who have never been entirely subdued. They now live mainly in Sonora and on reservations in Arizona, numbering an estimated 23,000 in Mexico, and some 15,200 (2000) in the USA.
The Yaqui originally lived in small settlements of flat-roofed houses made from adobe (sun-dried clay), or reeds and mud. Maize (corn), squash, beans, and cotton were grown along the Yaqui River, which flooded once a year and provided irrigation. Their diet was supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants such as mesquite beans and cacti. Families were related by blood or ritual kinship and, until the introduction of Catholicism, exchanging wives was a common custom. There was little political organization. The Spanish introduced Christianity, wheat, watermelons, livestock, and trading relations based on money. By the 19th century, the Yaqui had eight thriving villages, each with an elected governor.
In Sonora, agriculture remains central to the Yaqui's economy, although many now work as miners and only three of their original eight villages are important Yaqui communities. Many Yaqui in Arizona are employed in the tourist and gaming industries. Most are now Catholic, but some aspects of Yaqui culture survive, including deer dances, carvings, and traditional paintings.
The Spanish explorer Gúzman encountered the Yaqui in 1531. They remained undisturbed until 1610 when they signed a treaty with the Spanish, and Catholic missions were established. The Yaqui were never pacified by the Spanish, and major rebellions broke out in 1740 and 1764. The Mexican government fared no better after 1825; a state of almost continuous warfare occurred from 1885 to 1906, and the Yaqui began to migrate into Arizona to escape persecution from 1887. Attempts to subdue the Yaqui through enforced removals to the Yucatán and Tehuantepec in 1907 were short-lived, and in 1915 the Yaqui were at war with Pancho Villa in the Yaqui Valley. The following year they killed 200 Mexican troops.
The Yaqui of Arizona received a reservation in 1954 and, after a long battle, gained federal recognition in 1978.